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07-12-2011

Do I Need Content Management?



Many people want to eliminate the need to hire a web developer or designer to make updates to their website.  The answer to this is to have your site built with a content management system so that you or a member of your staff can make the updates yourself.

So, should you do this or should you continue to use professionals to maintain your site?

Ask yourself these questions:
  • Do I want to spend the time learning how to use new software?
  • Will I, or my staff, actually keep up with the changes we need or will the website remain on the back burner?
  • Do I want to add the burden of website maintenance to my work load?
Content management is a great tool to keep your website fresh and up to date, but it doesn't work if you don't use it.  If you don't have the time or inclination to make your changes or learn how to make your changes then Content Management is not a tool that will help you.

Our system, J2 WebWare, is easy to learn.  Even technophobes have learned to use it.  However, if you can't spend the little bit of time it takes to explore the system, or can't spend the time to update your website,  then even it is of little worth to you.

There are other instances in which Content Management might not be a good choice for you. 

Many designers create sites that are very heavy on graphics and light on text.  Often sites like these have small areas in which text can be displayed, but they are very limited and peppered throughout the site in such a way that most content management systems can't easily populate them.   If your site is like this, then a content management system might not be the right choice for you.

J2 WebWare can accommodate these heavily designed sites, but even this solution might not be worth the cost of implementation unless you have an area on your site which contains repetitive information that should be updated often (like a photo gallery or an events calendar). 

In conclusion, before you decide that you need a content management system determine if you really will use it and if there is a real necessity to use it on your site.  
 


02-23-2010

And I Want to Update my Website Myself



I have often seen the phrase "and I want to be able to update my website myself" at the end of the job description on jobs listings, as if it's a minor request.    An ad might read something like this:

Simple website.  Only 4 or 5 pages.  No flash.   Easy quick job for the right person.  And, when it's done, I need to be able to update the website myself.

That last sentence totally negates the sentence preceding it and the very first sentence.  There's nothing simple or easy for a web designer about including the ability for you to be able to update your own site.  In fact, a lot of web designers don't have the skill to be able to do that at all.

Web Designer vs. Web Developer

A lot of people build websites.  Some are primarily designers.  They can make a great looking site, but, often, they don't know how to build in functionality.  Many of them use software, like Dreamweaver, to construct the site and don't work much with the actual code.   Even if they do know how to build a website, it's a rare designer who knows how to build in the back end functionality required to enable you to update your site. 

Some web site people are web developers (like me).  Our sites may or may not be as pretty as the designers sites but we do know how to code and how to build in that back end.

So, make sure that if you want to be able to update the site yourself you have a web developer working on it.  Sometimes you can have a designer design it and the developer build it.  That's the best of both worlds, but that often costs more.

What's so hard about letting me update it myself?

Websites are built with a group of languages which format text and images.  Generally websites are created with the text and images hard coded into the site.  That means when you want your site to change somebody has to take the website files and change the stuff that's coded in those files.  They have to download the files to their computer, make the changes either by hand or using software, then upload the new file back to your server.   There is a level of skill involved in this which is time consuming to acquire. 

In order for you to be able to update the site yourself  content management software has to be added to the site.  Often the software needs to be customized for your needs.  These tasks take a great deal of skill and understanding of additional programming languages - as well as an understanding of databases.   This can increase the complexity of building your site exponentially.   It can and will also increase the cost exponentially.

There are a number of content management systems out there which are often used.  Wordpress, Joomla and Drupal are all very popular and great systems.  The drawback to these is that you must hire a developer who is skilled in creating sites using these systems and they don't come cheap.   You can count on spending at least $1000 on a fairly simple site if these technologies are used.

Are there Other Options?

J2 has it's own content management system, J2 WebWare,  which is built primarily for small sites.  We are accustomed to employing rapid development techniques which incorporate this system.   We can give you a 4 or 5 page website with full content management for about half of what others would charge using the more mainstream systems. 


02-05-2010

Help! My Web Developer Fell Off The Face of the Earth!



Has this happened to you?  It happens all the time.  Web developers move on to new opportunities and desert their old clients quite frequently.

There are a number of ways to deal with this, but forethought is probably the best.

Understand that you will want to update your website.

Often when people build their first website they think of it as a one-shot job.  They don't look ahead enough to realize that one day they are going to want to change information on the site. 

You will want to change the information, and sooner than you think.  You'll want to add new information.  You'll want to remove obsolete information.  And, you will think of new features that you want to add after the site has been up for a little while.

So, what do you do?  There are a few options.

Get Back in Touch with the Web Designer

This often works, however it probably won't work forever.  Web developers and designers do tend to drop off the face of the earth for a number of reasons.  They might have moved on to new opportunities.  They might only be interested in generating new, large jobs and not interested in little maintenance jobs.  They could simply be too busy to respond.

There are other problems with this approach.   You're going to pay top dollar for these changes.  Web Developers make their money on new business and maintenance contracts.  They don't depend on, nor want, little jobs where they just update a paragraph here or there.  To discourage this, they charge their highest prices for these types of changes.

In addition to paying top dollar, you're also probably going to wait a while for these changes to happen.  You will be on the back burner.  You might want the change made right away, but your web designer is probably busy with projects which came in prior to your request.  He or she has an obligation to those clients as well, and must prioritize his or her work according to the greater commitment. 

Maintenance Contracts

Web Developers and Designers usually offer some sort of maintenance package in which they charge a monthly fee which insures that they will perform updates when needed.  The fee usually isn't very high, but it is often extra money that the client doesn't want to spend.  

Think about what you will want.  If you want changes made in a timely manner and you want to rest assured that your web designer is available, a maintenance contract is the way to go.   It's very possible that the monthly fee will work out to be about what you would have paid for piece-meal updates.

Learn to Update it Yourself

If you're used to software this might be a way to go.  There are a number of web packages out there that can enable you to update the pages.

There is a learning curve and if you don't have time to do this, this will be a royal pain in the neck.  You will have to learn to update the page and upload it to you server. 

If you aren't comfortable around software then this is not an option for you.

Have a Content Management System Built into Your Website.

This actually makes the most sense.  Content management systems empower you to make necessary updates easily.    The system J2 offers, J2 WebWare, is so easy to use anyone can learn to update his or her site in minutes.   You can read all about that system by clicking here.

A content management system will cost you a little more up front, but it will be cheaper in the long run.  Even if you opt to have a maintenance contract, your maintenance contract should cost less if you have a system in place.

Now I Know what I SHOULD have done, but what do I do now?

If your web developer fell off the face the earth you need to find a new one.  J2 will take on little jobs.  We will also convert your website to use a content management system, if you so desire.

Please Contact Us and tell us what you need. 



12-31-2009

Do I Need a Content Management System?



Content Management Systems (CMS) are powerful tools which allow you to make frequent updates to your website.   CMS free you from dependence on a web master to make changes and save you money in the long run.  The might, however, be overkill if:

  • Your website is very simple and just displays contact information and a little description of what you do; or
  • You really don't have any need to update your site, ever, for some other reason; or
  • Your website is maintained by your wife, husband or child (and your child is very responsible and still living at home). In this case your wife, husband or child might want a CMS anyway.
How do I know if I Need CMS?

Ask yourself these questions:
  1. Do I want to add announcements or news of my business or other enterprise?
  2. Is there any part of my site that should be updated on a regular basis?
  3. Would I like a photo gallery on my website?
  4. Would I like an events calendar on my website?
  5. Would I like to change the look a little for various holidays or other occasions?
  6. Is my husband, wife or child really too busy and/or uninterested to maintain my site in a timely manner?
If the answer to any of those questions is "Yes" you should consider getting a content management system.  You still have the option to pay a web master to make those changes for you, but that will add up to a lot of money in the long run.

But I'm not "technical"

Some people are a little afraid of computer software.  If you have the computer skills to have found this blog, then you have enough computer savvy to use some CMS.  Or, if someone else helped you find this blog, you have someone who can help you learn a CMS.

J2 offers an easy to use CMS called J2 WebWare which will be customized just for you.  J2 WebWare is intuitive,  compact and offers lots of help functions.  Everything is explained to you in language that avoids computerese.   To see how easy it is, just go to my page on Content Management and click the link to the little demo.   You'll see that some of what a CMS does is just like what a word processor does.

There are other CMS which are easy to use as well   Just do a web search for "easy content management" and pick the one that's best for you.





12-24-2009

What are Content Management Systems anyway?



While investigating web sites you've probably come across the term "Content Management System." Content management systems, or CMS (don't you hate acronyms?) are becoming increasingly popular and the choices are becoming increasingly confusing.

What Content Management Systems do.

Content Management Systems empower you to manage your own content.    Generally they are set up to allow to to change anything on your website  other than the overall design.    You can change text, usually using a Rich Text Editor (like a word processing program).  You can add to photo galleries, add to news feeds and blogs, and do a variety of other things which used to be done by your web master.  These abilities save you money in the long run.

Why You Should Consider Getting a Content Management System

Websites need to change from time to time.  But, even more importantly, websites SHOULD change with some frequency.   If they don't they get stale.

At one time, not too long ago, your only option to update your site was to employ a web master to make these changes for you.  You could pay a maintenance fee or you could pay a fee per change.   The key word here is "pay."  Those fees can add up over time.  Also, your web master's have a tendency to take their time when making these updates.  They were updating everybody else's website, while trying to find new work. If you had a maintenance contract the contract would be explicit about timing.  If you paid per change, though, there would be no limit on how long your web master would take.

If you have a content management system you can make these changes any time you like.  You can update your site every day, if you like, or update it quickly when information about you changes.  

The Learning Curves for CMS

In order to use a content management system you will need to learn to use it - just like any other software.  If you have very little computer experience the learning curve for any system will be longer.

Most open source systems are very easy to use, once you get the knack.  You will have to learn a little lingo and understand how the interface is organized.   You might have to learn a little bit about web concepts to do more complex things like adding images or videos to your pages.  In other words, you should expect to spend some time learning your system.

The system offered by J2 Web Works has a very short learning curve.  It was written specifically for people who are not well versed in computer or web concepts.   In fact, if you know how to use a word processing program you probably can start making changes and adding information right away.  You can see a little demo of a scaled down version of our text editor by going to our CMS page and clicking on the "See Our Little Demo" option in the "Have A Taste" section.

What if I don't want to update my site myself?

You can still use the services of a web master to make your changes for you.  If you have a content management system in place those changes should be cheaper to make and should be made in a timely fashion.   Updating traditional web pages is time consuming and tedious so even web masters prefer to use content management where ever they can.

The other nice thing about having a content management system is that if your web master goes MIA (as they tend to do) a new web master will be able to pick up where the last one left off without doing extensive, and expensive, analysis.

How do I choose a Content Management System

Your content management system will depend on your priorities.  If your site is primarily a blog, you'll want to use a content management system that supports blogs heavily.  If you want photo galleries, you're going to want a system that has a photo gallery plug in.  There are many systems from which to choose and a lot of functionality to weed through to determine the best system for you.

Your web developer can help you decide which one to use.  We offer our system, which is very customizable and very easy to use, to all of our customers.  If, however, you would prefer a more mainstream system we will work with you to get your site up and running using one of those.



11-07-2009

Who should build my Website?



You need a website.  You know pretty much what you want on it and how much you want to spend.  Now you have to find someone to build it, or you have to build it yourself.

Much of your decision will depend on your budget.

Low Budget

If you only have about $399 or less your options are limited.  Remember, a professional website takes time.  Also, your domain name and hosting will eat up a chunk of a small budget.   Your best option in this case is to find a hosting platform that has a website builder and build your website yourself. 

If that sounds scary to you, never fear.  The website builders that are available are easy to use.  They are designed to enable you to get a site up and running in a few minutes.    There are, of course, pros and cons to this choice:

Pros:
  • It's cheap
  • You can get your site up in a few minutes
  • The hosting service has a number of designs from which to choose
  • You can update your site whenever you like
  • Many of these templates already have copy that you can change to reflect your purpose
Cons
  • You probably won't get everything on your wish list
  • You are limited to the designs (even though there are many) offered by the hosting plan
  • Your site will be similar other sites which use the same template
  • If you are a real technophobe there will be a learning curve and you will make errors
  • You won't have the advantage of working with a web developer who can help organize your site in the best possible way
Medium Budget

If you have between $400 and $1000 to spend on a website you have the means to hire a web developer to build it for you.   You may still have to alter your wish list, but a web developer will be able to make suggestions that will satisfy your wishes as much as possible within your budget.

With this budget, and with a low budget, you might be tempted to hire someone who is not a professional.  Your nephew, your sister-in-law or the neighbor's kid probably all know a little something about websites and will be happy to build one for you.   Be wary, though.   Many people can get something up on the Web, but only a professional is guaranteed to provide you with an enduring and inviting website. 

One thing that you might want on you wish list (and more and more people are adding this) is a content management system which will allow you to make changes to the site.    With a medium budget there is no guarantee that this will be available to you.   J2 does offer content management at this price level, but not all developers do.  We can because we have an in-house content management system that is easy to plug into our sites.  Most developers will use open source systems which are very good but take a little more effort and specialized expertise to customize for you.

Big Budget

Of course, if you have all the money in the world to spend on your site you can have anything you like,  Your wish list will be granted and you will probably find that your professional will offer ideas that will enhance your wish list.

In this case you can hire a large web company which will provide a team of professionals to create the site.  You can expect to work with a designer, a developer and an implementation expert.    You can also expect to have an open source content management system attached to your site.

If your web presence is the heart of your business  you should budget accordingly.  

How do I find a hosting service that allows me to build my own site.

This is pretty easy to do.  Just Google "Free Websites,"   Your search will present thousands of options.

Choose one that provides hosting and domain name registration.  Also, take a look at the demo web site builder and see if it fulfills your requirements.

This might be a good place to enlist the services of your nephew, your sister-in-law or the neighbor's kid.   If they know something about building website they can probably help you find a hosting service that will match your requirements.

How do I find a Web Developer?

That's even easier.  Hire J2.   We provide content management, well organized and inviting websites and we'll do the best we can to give you as much as possible within your budget.  Also, our turn-around time is fast.

OK, now that I've done the sales pitch I will offer another way to find a web developer.   Go to sites within your field, scroll down to the bottom of the home page and look for something that says "Website Design by XXX."  If you like the site, click on that.  It should take you to the developer's website and provide contact information.

You're not done, yet.  Make sure the developer can give you references and look at the developer's portfolio.  If all of the sites look pretty much the same and you want something a little different, move on to the next site.  Also, if the developer can't provide references or doesn't get back to you in a timely manner, move on.






11-05-2009

What should My Website contain?



I've spoken to many a client who would say "I know I need a website but I'm not sure what I need in my website."   It's an issue for someone who doesn't use the Web much but who knows that they need a website for their business or livelihood.

Look at other websites in your field

What should my website content be?There is a good probablilty that others in your field have created websites.  Those websites can give you an idea of the sort of information and user services you can present on your site.

Search your field in a search engine (like Google or Yahoo) and check out as many sites as you can.  See what you like about them, and what you don't like about them.   Make note of what they all have in common and, more importantly, make a note of what you think they are missing.

Once you've done your search you will have a better idea of what your website can do for you and can really start to think about what you need on your website.

Think about your message

Websites are communication tools.   One of the primary services they perform is to introduce you to the world.   Think about what you want to say in that introducton.   Also, think about how you want to say it (text, images, animaton - there are many ways to get your point across).

Consider what your Clients or Customers need

Websites are also information tools for your existing client base.  Think about what information or services you can provide to your clients through your website which will make them return again and again.

Your clients' and customers' needs could be as simple as a good contact page, and FAQ page or directions to your place of business.   Then again, you might find that an on-line store, reservaton system or onlne document archive is necessary to satisfy your client/ customer base.

Make a Wishlist

Now that you've decided what you want on your site make a list of all the components you wish to see.    Prioritize that list.   This list is the beginniing of your website.

Determine your Budget

Now comes the hard part.  You need to figure out how much you can spend or want to spend.   A small website (4 or 5 pages) will cost at least $400 or $500 if you hire someone to do it for you.   The longer your wish list, the more you will have to pay.   That's just the way is.   If you don't have a lot of money to spend on a website, you will have to toss out some of the things on your wishlist. 

If you really want flash, user interactivity or content management you should expect to pay more.  Just keep that in mind.

Your Web Developer can Help You

You now have everything you need to present to your web developer.   Choose web developer who has the experience to guide you through the process of fine tuning the content and  who might even be able make a suggestion or two to make the site better.

10-04-2009

Do You Need a Website?



If you're asking the question "Do I need a website" then the answer is probably "Yes."  Do you need a website

At one time not too long ago Websites were the cutting edge.  Having one was a luxury and demonstrated that you were or your company was on top of the technological curve.    Actually, then, websites were of little value to your average small business or professional because the Web hadn't yet hit the mainstream.  Well, those days are long gone and now, if you are a business, professional, organization, educational facility or almost anything that requires interaction with anybody, you need a website. It's expected.

What can a website do for me?

Web sites can do a lot of things but primarily they are an inexpensive and robust marketing tool.    Even if your primary clientele is very localized (as in the case of a local service provider or retailer) your website can provide information and services that help you get that next job.   It also provides the convenience of concentrated information about you (contact information, business hours, etc) to your existing customers.

Even if your website does nothing more than list your services and provide contact information it's worth the effort. 

What do I need on my Website?

Atthe bare minimum you need some explanation of who you are and a method to contact you.   Depending on what you're offering you might also want other things, such as

  • A photo gallery
  • A blog
  • A page or two displaying products
  • A page describing your line of work (if it's unusual)
  • An on-line store
  • A reservations system
  • An events calendar
  • An availability calendar
The possibilities are endless.   Remember, though, that the more you can offer your clients on your site the more impact you will make in your marketplace.

OK.  You've Convinced me.  I need a Website.  Now what?

Once you've decided that you need a website you then have to decide what, exactly, want that website to do for you.    Of course, when you started reading this article you weren't even sure that you needed a website so it is a leap to define its purpose at this point.  That is, however, your first step. 

If you're totally unsure of what you need on your site the best way to help define your needs is to pick other people's brains.  Google your line of work or other enterprise for which you want a site and see what other people have on their sites.  Note what you like about those sites and what don't like.  Then try to think of anything that those sites don't have that would make them better.

If you can't figure out what you want on your site a good web developer will be able to make suggestions.